Grief on the Way to Transformation: My Cell Phone and Violence #2

TeardropWhy concern myself with human rights abuses in far away places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Why make connections between myself and the behavior of a long-ago king, the Belgium’s colonial policies or missionaries’ behavior when, although I personally am outraged by their behaviors, none of these people were my family members?

Why think too much about the fact that materials for my cell phone and wedding ring may have involved injustice and ill treatment of others half way around the globe? For me, my cell keeps me connected to people I care about and my wedding ring is a symbol of a life-long love.

I have no interest in collapsing in shame and despair. That is a dead-end street that feels lousy and helps no one.

Yet, I am no longer willing to keep global horrors at arms length, grateful that since I don’t approve I can wash my hands of any connection to things done by other humans, national and transnational corporations who produce the goods I buy, or “my people” (which includes people who share my Euro-American roots, white skin, Christianity or wealth).

Distancing myself from other’s behavior makes it too easy for me to forget the deep historical roots of today’s world events and the fact that I enjoy the benefits of things grown and produced under horrifying conditions.

Maintaining that distance requires that I go back to sleep. That isn’t an option for me anymore.

However I can’t, nor should I, shoulder the responsibility for all of these actions. Nevertheless, I can stop and grieve. Weep for violence and injustice—for both victims and perpetrators. Let my heart break open for those who suffered and continue to suffer far outside my neighborhood.

My personal grief and the world’s grief meet in my heart. That is where I experience the truth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”1

No defensiveness is needed. Only seeing. Grieving. Not getting stuck there, but also not bypassing my need to wail about tragic aspects of human behavior.

Fear is fanned on every street corner and news show. Despair for the enormity of the environmental destruction and human inequity feels like it could easily undermine our capacity to cope with daily life.

The only path I know of that moves toward transformation, runs right through the middle of grief. “To let ourselves feel anguish and disorientation as we open our awareness to global suffering is part of our spiritual ripening. … Out of darkness, the new is born.”2

Against all logic, this path leads me to joy and gratitude. Standing solidly in the center of both grief and joy, I find clarity about my place in the global world. I am prompted to continue to ask myself, “What’s next? What is my next step to further align my behavior with my values?” Not from a place of despair, shame or over-responsibility but from a solid knowing of the interconnectedness of us all.

Paradox again. I always return here. The more I can learn to hold grief and joy, the greater my capacity to live life fully in ways that serve us all.


1. Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963
2. Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown. Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World (British Columbia: New Society Publishers, 1998) Pg 45

2 thoughts on “Grief on the Way to Transformation: My Cell Phone and Violence #2

  1. Nancy, I’m really hoping to find the way to stand in the center of grief and joy. So far, it feels like a one-or-the-other proposition. Or, and all or none. I’m curious to hear more about how it feels and what you do to back yourself away from the despair.

  2. Every step of this life journey seems to be held in paradox. Not sure that was true when I was young, but it is now. The paradox that I spoke about in this blog–being fully awake to the problems of the world and yet still finding joy–at times feels too wide, too much for me.

    First, a qualifier. I make a distinction between knowing the state of the world–human and environment–and subjecting myself to daily slams of the news. I want to be awake to the big picture and some of the details, but I get buried with both the volume of global disasters and the stirring up of fear that is woven into most news reports. Therefore, I stay away from the latter. That is not the only way, but it is my way.

    Second, a little side note. Though we get the impression that violence is on the rise (news reports) the reality is that violent crime in the US has dropped to near the 1950s level. And things that were considered pranks and childish behavior when I was a child are now considered criminal and treated with zero tolerance. We do have to sort through faulty impressions and analysis and facts.

    Now, back to your question: How does it feel? Awakening to the pain and suffering in the world softens my heart. No initially, of course–at that point it just hurts. But if I don’t fight my feelings, if it let them rest alongside the details of the painful world or personal event, something happens. Walls that I’ve constructed to protect myself begin to crumble. And joy begins to slowly shine in through the cracks.

    Hafiz says it beautifully, “Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly. Let it cut you more deep. Let it ferment and season you as few humans and even divine ingredients can. Something missing in my heart tonight has made my eyes so soft, my voice so tender, my need for God absolutely clear.”

    The sharp edges of despair or fear or grief still pop up in me from time to time. I try to be gentle when they come. And to remember the bigger picture of all that I have seen and witnessed and participated in that is part of the new transformation that is ALREADY HAPPENING in our wold today.

    This brings me to another paradox–today’s reality of injustice and violence alongside the reality of a collaborative, equitable, life-affirming foundation that is present in individuals and in many organizations and institutions around the globe.

    It drives my mind crazy sometimes. But my body and spirit know this is true.

    I hear that it generally feels like one or the other, but have there been moments (or a moment) when you could hold the paradox? If so, what did that feel like to you?

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